By MARINA WATERS
Twana McKinney was once a science teacher at David Crockett High School who spent her time teaching, planning labs, grading papers and, in her spare time, writing grants to increase her students’ opportunities. Now, the teacher-turned-grant-writer spends her time expanding upon her passion for offering such opportunities as the Washington County School System’s grant writer.
“I was teaching but I really fell in love with something new,” McKinney said. “It was so cool to be able to get these projects for the students. I went from helping my beautiful children to helping hundreds — potentially thousands — of children.”
McKinney was hired for the position in July of 2019 when the Washington County Board of Education decided to set aside budget dollars for the new role. Since then, she’s helped secure grants throughout multiple departments and has procured $457,854.82 in grant funds.
“None of this is money that’s pending,” Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary said at the school board’s May 7 meeting. “This is money that has been guaranteed. These funds have actually been granted. She’s got another $30,000 or so pending before the end of the fiscal year. So without exception, board members, we will continue funding her position into the next year.”
Crockett and Daniel Boone High School were both awarded Early Postsecondary Opportunity grants, which help encourage students to earn credits that can serve them past high school. As part of the grant, Crockett was able to promote advanced placement class enrollment to students who might not have done so otherwise. Boone and Crockett also increased its connection to career and technical education opportunities due to the grant.
“The kids that normally wouldn’t take an AP class, we were able to try to increase their participation by offering scholarship money through the grant, paying for books and tuition and even paying for the (AP) test,” McKinney said. “That was super awesome because we’re trying to increase participation in advanced placement programs as well as trying to increase participation when it comes to Adobe.
“The kids can participate in (Adobe training) and get a certificate, for example, in Photoshop. They can have that on their resume right out the door from high school which is pretty neat.”
Spreading opportunities was also the idea behind the upcoming science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics bus, which will house activities and materials that will be funded by America’s Farmers Bayer Fund. The bus was designed to show middle school-aged students in the school district what opportunities they have in high school and beyond.
“The activities that are on the STEAM bus are actually based on the CTE programs that are currently in our high schools and bridge to the seventh and eighth grade science and math standards,” McKinney said. “What we’re trying to do is show them the connections to what they’re learning to a career or a technical program they could be exposed to in high school. They might take that class and it might be something they’re interested in doing in adulthood or something they might want to study.”
The grants McKinney has helped secure have spanned across a variety of school system projects such as classroom grants, grants for art, agricultural literacy and even a grant for propane buses. But McKinney has also secured grants that have improved every day school functions, such as the USDA grant that provided a solution to a problem that has plagued Crockett’s kitchen for at least two years.
“David Crockett’s dishwasher had been broken, like cannot-be-fixed kind of broken for two years,” McKinney said. “And so we were very fortunate to procure a grant so David Crockett High School could have a dishwasher. That was really exciting for that staff because now they’ll be able to do more things for the children. They were hand-washing a lot. But freeing up the time from hand-washing, they’re able to prepare other varieties of fruits or vegetables or do something different because now they have the ability to do that for the children. So that was a really neat grant.”
It takes more than just getting grant funds for the school system. McKinney said her job mostly consists of research, paperwork and a lot of follow up even after a grant is rewarded.
All these aspects can be done within a school system, she said, but, as she discovered first-hand as a teacher attempting to secure grants on top of her regular teacher duties, it takes a colossal amount of time and energy to complete the grant process from start to finish. That, she said, is where grant writers can alleviate extra work from teachers and other school system personnel.
“In Washington County, we’ve had the ability to secure grants, which could have happened (without a grant writer), but it would have taken multiple people working independently and writing them on top of everything else they’re doing currently,” McKinney said, “like I did when I started. When I wrote, I wrote at night because I was teaching in the day. As a grant writer I’m able to assist and help and try to relieve some of that stress that comes with writing.”
McKinney was able to secure 15 grants as a teacher before becoming the school system’s grant writer. One of those projects included taking her high school biology and chemistry classes to South Central Elementary to share lessons on photosynthesis and aquaponics, which combines raising aquatic animals such as fish with cultivating plants in water. Then those elementary students got to create a related project and present it to the high school students.
“It was really cool to have that connection from high school to elementary school,” McKinney said. “They got to present to the high schoolers and the high schoolers got to experience evaluating and observing and actually working with a rubric as a responsible leader. And that grant made that happen.
“So grants provide opportunities that may not otherwise be available. I guess, because of my passion from doing it myself in the classroom, I feel like everyone should have this sort of fun (from writing and receiving grants). It feels good.”
For McKinney, all that research, planning, financial work and follow through after a grant is secured is more than worth it for the same reason as when she started writing grants — for the students.
“I feel very honored to be chosen to do this job,” McKinney said. “I really do because it has been very fulfilling in helping a whole entire district reach their goals and their dreams they want to do for their children. It’s all for the children at the end of the day. That’s why it’s so fantastic. It’s just been a blessing to be able to help in this capacity, to help the community.”